At the end of the day, or during a family-style lunch break, groups of harvest interns open bottles of wine and pass them around. It’s a convivial atmosphere, they say, even as the work experience is unequivocally described as physically demanding and intense.
Each year, for six or eight weeks during harvests, producers across the U.S. hire interns to help with the hard work of turning grapes into wine. The days are long, sometimes stretching to 12 hours, weekends included. They can be hot, too, under California’s blazing sun or in the thick of Vermont humidity.
Education is paramount during these internships, which often act as a springboard to future careers in wine. Get to know five of these unsung industry heroes, who are part of the often invisible but essential crews working harvest across the country.
Marreya Bailey, 33
Interning at Horse & Plow, Sebastopol, California
What’s she’s drinking: North American Press 2020 The Rebel Baco Noir, or “anything delicious with hybrid grapes [in] big, bad, bold-ass reds.”
It’s the third harvest for Marreya Bailey, who quit her corporate job in 2020 to pursue a winemaking career. Last year, amid the smoke and devastating vineyard losses of California’s wildfires, Bailey says she gained hands-on experience that made her “think quickly on her feet,” and “be innovative.”
Working three consecutive harvests at three different wineries, Bailey plans to next take her education and harvest skills to launch her own wine and cider label, Madmarvlus, in 2022.
“I wanted to diversify my experience and harvest in order to understand what route I wanted to take [and] what type of method I want to use,” she says.
The arduous days don’t bother her, though Bailey warns of something called “harvest brain,” a sort of tunnel-vision that occurs when one lives, breathes and sleeps harvest. That is, if you get to sleep, she says. Sometimes, the wake-up time is as early as 3 am if they’re picking fruit and then it’s just “going, going, going.” Siesta lunches, as Bailey refers to the midday meals where the group tastes and talks about wine, feel particularly rewarding.
Calvin Griffin, 25
Interning at Bloomer Creek, Finger Lakes
What he’s drinking: Bloomer Creek 2019 Bear Vineyard Riesling (Barrel Sample), “super beautiful bouquet of cheesy, bread, fruity”
Calvin Griffin’s winemaking aspirations came to light during Covid. The biology major says he “loves the natural world,” and “loves fermenting things in general,” but admits wine initially seemed out of reach.
“I just always had this idea of wine being this really lofty, elitist thing that I would never be a part of,” says Griffin. But after a stint working alongside natural winemakers in Chile, where he says he was surrounded by passionate people, he was all in.
Now at Bloomer Creek in the Finger Lakes, Griffin is interning with “absolute legends” who are making some of his favorite wines in the country. He appreciates the way that harvest brings something different every moment. A recent day included tasting every barrel of the winery’s Cabernet Franc and making blends from four of them for the 2019 vintage.
“My ultimate goal is to get as much experience as possible, as quickly as possible and then start my own project and be able to make wine in the Northeast somewhere,” says Griffin. He sees himself as part of a growing generation of future winemakers looking toward hybrid grapes, and not just Old World Vitis vinifera vines.
Amy Kerman, 34
Interning at Pax, Sebastopol, California
What she’s drinking: Martha Stoumen 2020 Benchlands, “a chillable, playful red.”
“In five years, I hope I’m making wine,” says Amy Kerman. The Oakland-based 34-year-old is on sabbatical from her job in education technology and decided to drive her converted van north to Sebastopol to work her first harvest.
“You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, but you’ll find out quickly how you feel about the process,” she says. “So far, I love it.”
It’s just as demanding as she anticipated. The “immense amount of work” begins at 8 am and sometimes doesn’t end until 9 or 10 pm, says Kerman. She and other interns, all of whom pitch in to help the natural winemakers producing wine out of Pax’s facilities, are guided by what fruit comes in and what requires being done. On any given day, this could mean sorting, destemming, pressing or even jumping in tanks with the grapes.
The internship, which had Kerman stomping grapes on her first day, has been immersive with abundant learning opportunities. Kerman says she feels lucky to be at community-oriented Pax, working with “an incredible team of winemakers and interns…open to sharing their knowledge and supporting each other.”
Roxy Eve Narvaez, 31
Interning at La Garagista, Bethel, Vermont
What she’s drinking: La Garagista Dark Country Sky, a “beautiful inky wine made from a grape called Marquette.”
After escaping Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, Roxy Eve Narvaez arrived in Vermont to work harvest at La Garagista, an experience she’s found inspirational and intimate. It’s the hospitality veteran’s first harvest, and a stepping-stone toward her ultimate goal of someday founding a bilingual wine education course.
At La Garagista, where all the grapes are picked by hand, Narvaez is grateful to be learning from Assistant Winegrower Camille Carrillo, who she calls “the real deal.” A large part of the handpicking process is getting to know the fruit, deciding when it’s ready and why, based on taste and appearance.
Working harvest is essential to her career goals, says Narvaez, “because there’s just a relationship that one can’t have until one sees the process…why grapes ripen on the vine the way they do, why they’re processed in the cellar based on the conditions of the year.” Wine in the bottle, she says, “is a snapshot of the year on the vine.” Next, Narvaez is weighing plans to work harvest in a Spanish-speaking country like Argentina or Chile to further her trajectory of becoming a wine educator.
A Garrett Robertson, 36
Interning at American Wine Project, Mineral Point, Wisconsin
What he’s drinking: American Wine Project Rivals LaCrosse, “nutty, smoky, oxidative.”
Last summer, A Garrett Robertson made wine from grapes purchased from a vineyard on Long Island. “Honestly, it is good,” he says. “I’m proud of it.” He adds, however, that if he were to do it over he “would’ve used sulfur at crush.”
Robertson is now interning at American Wine Project, a young, hybrid-producing winery in Wisconsin, alongside Owner and Winemaker Erin Rasmussen, whom he calls a role model. As it’s just Robertson and Rasmussen working harvest, there’s only so much the two can accomplish in any given day or week. This has been especially eye-opening to Robertson.
“One big surprise has been how much of the winemaking decisions are purely logistically driven,” he says. With the size of their operation, the two “can only make as much [wine] as we can physically move.”
They’re in the process of producing 2000 cases on a hand-driven basket press. But this resonates with Robertson, who says “working at this scale is something I feel I can understand from A to Z and hope to translate into the future.”